Chthonic: The Final Battle At Sing Ling Temple
Band Photo: Chthonic (?)
The ornate and historic Sing Ling Temple, located on a hillside in the scenic mountain town of Puli in Nantou County, Central Taiwan, played host to Taiwan’s top extreme metal band, Chthonic, this past Saturday. The temple is of special historical significance to Taiwan, as it was the site of a battle between Taiwanese troops and KMT soldiers following the 228 incident, in which many thousands of Taiwanese were massacred by the KMT over 40 years ago. Chthonic has since made the temple, along with local folklore and the Taiwanese fight for recognition of their independence, a central focus of their music and lyrics.
Fans began lining up hours in advance of the concert’s 6:30 p.m. start time, climbing the steep hillside steps leading up to the bright orange thatched roofs and delicate masonry of the temple proper to the staging area just behind it. A film crew, documenting the concert for a future DVD release, lugged hundreds of kilograms of gear, including a large swing-arm camera that dipped and dove over the heads of the fans throughout the show, up the stairs in temperatures that reached an unseasonably high 30 degrees plus.
Crew members, international music press from around Asia and Europe, including a representative of Metal Hammer magazine (UK), and a few lucky friends and fans looked on as Chthonic battled and overcame sound problems early on during their sound check. Special guest vocalist, the affable and approachable Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), lounged in the shade of a ring of trees surrounding the staging area, clad in a black Misfits T-shirt, wraparound shades, backwards baseball cap, and camouflage shorts, awaiting his call to the huge steel stage constructed for the occasion. The stage came complete with poly casts of huge stone sculptures of mythical beasts usually found guarding the front gates of temples in Taiwan, and a large backdrop featuring the Chthonic logo, all designed by local artist, photographer and art teacher Oink Chen.
Finally Chthonic vocalist Freddy Lim called Blythe up to the stage, where he belted out some shockingly guttural screams before running through the two songs he was to take part in that night, with the lyrics of the Taiwanese chorus he had learned for the show taped to the stage just in case. Curious septuagenarian temple workers looked on from an adjacent rooftop as Chthonic’s songs blasted from the stage across the valley below the temple to a nearby Volvo factory. Outside, the crowd continued to swell, nearing over a thousand people by the time the show was to begin. Meanwhile, Chthonic bassist Doris Yeh and guitarist Jesse Liu milled around with the film crew, Taiwan Beer in hand, while keyboardist CJ Kao, who also pulled double duty as the sound man during sound check, quietly enjoyed a rice box behind the sound tent.
It wasn’t long before the hour was at hand and the show was set to begin. A roar went up in the crowd as Chthonic’s intro reverberated over the P.A. system, and the members of the band strode confidently onto the stage as the lights went up, the smoke machine billowed its wispy, ethereal clouds, and the first wads of yellow ghost money, usually burned as offerings to the ancestors of Taiwanese, were thrown into the dark night air. Chthonic tore into their set, ripping furiously through song after song from their past three albums, and even further into their back catalog, including many songs from their new hit record, “Takasago Army,” a CD that tells the story of the aboriginal warriors who were forced to fight for Japan in WWII, and then took up the fight against the invading KMT in Taiwan following the end of the war in a beautiful but bloody reclamation of their original identity.
In between songs, Lim recounted the historical significance of the location, remembering the brave who fell at that very site, and recognized the people from many nations who had made the trek to Sing Ling Temple for the show, moving easily between Mandarin, Taiwanese, and English. During one song, he produced a KMT flag and tried to set it ablaze. When the flame wouldn’t take, a now shirtless Lim simply tore it in half, which the crowd seemed to enjoy even more. He also took time to pay tribute to the temple officials in attendance, smiling near the back of the crowd, who had allowed the show to go forward after literally consulting the gods for their blessing, which reportedly came without hesitation.
During one interlude, a member of Taiwan’s aboriginal community, Pitero Wukah, wearing traditional tribal dress, came on stage to play a traditional, flute-like instrument, bathed in light and smoke as the crowd watched in seemingly silent awe. Then, during the song that has become Chthonic’s new anthem for their legions of fans, and one that has taken on a special meaning for the band and its followers, “Takao,” from “Takasago Army,” Blythe bounded onto the stage to share the chorus with Lim, sending the audience into rapturous hysterics. Near the end of the song, Lim picked up the Er Hu, a traditional, single-stringed instrument played with a bow, to add some haunting yet compelling atmosphere as the mournful strains were left alone, drifting out over the now sweat-soaked crowd and ghost-money-covered ground at song’s end. Blythe then stayed on to engage in a lyrical back-and-forth with Lim during “Oceanquake,” another song from the same album, with his usual high energy and incredible vocal prowess as he menacingly stalked the stage in his typically lupine fashion from side to side.
All told, it was a vicious 90 minute set that went off nearly flawlessly, save for some early sound issues that were quickly overcome, and a truly historic moment for the Taiwanese metal scene that will be talked about for years to come by those who were there to witness it firsthand. Following the show, Chthonic, Blythe, and a select few fans, journalists, and friends retired to a nearby resort for an outdoor BBQ party, where Blythe himself, a renowned BBQ chef in his own right, tended grill, putting the cap on an unforgettable evening.
Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.
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